Maybe it’s just because I’m from Pittsburgh, but I’ve been following the case of Antwon Rose Jr. pretty closely. Rose, 17, was gunned down by a rookie police officer as he and another young man fled from a jitney (look it up!). This morning, the other young man was arrested and there is reason to believe that the two young men may have been involved in an attempted drive-by shooting. All of the facts have yet to emerge.
Last week, KDKA, Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate released on a story on Facebook saying that there was video of Rose’s involvement in the nearby shooting in question and that gun shot residue was found on his body. KDKA would go on to share a report from the police that there was no such video and that no residue was found on Rose’s body. Still, the damage was done. This was the justification that people needed to say that the boy had it coming. Actual quotes from KDKA’s Facebook page included:
“If he was innocent, he wouldn’t have been running”
“He got what he deserved!”
“Why keep showing his 14 year old picture? He was a 17 year old criminal!”
Ummm… 17 year olds are, last I heard, still minors. A 17 year old is a kid. Antwon Rose Jr., all accounts, was a good kid. And maybe in recent months he fell in with a bad crowd, facts aren’t all in, but does that mean he deserves to be dead?
I have a pretty solid “don’t read the comments” policy, but I couldn’t look away from the inhumanity I was seeing. It was mean-spirited. it was racist. It was dehumanizing.
And at the end of the day, a 17 year old boy is still dead.
It’s not just that I have been a 17 year old who did stupid things. I did. It’s also that I am raising people who will be 17 one day and might eventually do stupid things. They will. A mother, a family, and a community are grieving. What gives people the gall to go online and call this young man a criminal? How does a 17 year old deserve to be executed at the hands of the state for something they are suspected of having done? How is “the cop was just doing his job” justification for the loss of a life full of potential?
Where is the compassion?
Without getting too deep into etymology, “compassion” literally means “to suffer with”. In our culture, we go to great lengths to avoid suffering, let alone suffering alongside another. It is so much easier to vilify, demean, and dehumanize. We don’t want to sit in the same space as the heartbroken family or the enraged community that is tired of watching boys be snuffed out before they reach manhood. It’s easier to be hardhearted. The pain of others is inconvenient. I have enough of my own suffering. Besides, who even cares about “those people”.
Have you noticed lately how our administration has been doubling down on dehumanizing language when it comes to immigration? The members of the gang MS-13 have repeatedly been referred to as “animals”. It’s an old tactic. Black people have been continually compared to beasts in this country to ensure that we are kept in our proper place. But dehumanizing actions follow dehumanizing language. Always. Children being separated from their parents mimics the practices of factory farming. Children being herded into cages is fairly self explanatory. We see them as less than and therefore can justify our treatment of them.
What atrocity would make me feel my home country? Don’t get wrong, I think more and more about leaving all the time, but what horror would I have to experience to actually pack up my children and move to an unknown land? How desperate would I have to be? How could that be seen as anything but a last resort? We have lumped all immigrants together with the criminal element represented by the few. The idea of the United States as a place where people could come in search of a better life is one of our foundational myths, and yet, more and more, we have decided that there is no longer enough of what this country has to offer to share with everyone.
Where is our compassion?
The Supreme Court decided this morning to uphold the administration’s travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries. In the name of national security, we’ve closed the door on people from nations that our policies helped to destabilize. It’s beyond compassion-less, it is cruel.
When it’s all said and done, I believe compassion to be the most Christ-like of virtues. I don’t know how a nation calls itself “Christian” without a base level of empathy and understanding for both those who suffer within and those who suffer beyond our borders. The recent calls for “civility” in our public life ring hollow in the ears of people tired of watching those in power use what they have to make the lives of the weak even more miserable. Civility is not a Christian value. Compassion most certainly is.
We can not continue on like this. The pain of grieving mothers, detained children, and separated families must become our pain. There is no room for apathy, no space to turn a blind eye. We must continue to cultivate warm, pliable hearts that break at those things that break God’s heart, namely the mistreatment and abuse of our fellow human beings. Daily we need to choose to soft hearted in a world designed to make our hearts hard. Daily we need to choose to be open in a world that tries to close us off from one another. Daily we need to choose to suffer with our brothers and sisters in a world that encourages looking out for “me and mine”.
Daily, we need to choose compassion.